Athletes and brain injuries

I thoroughly enjoyed writing my first article for a national magazine.

I wrote a Science of Sport feature for Sportsnet Magazine on a new medical device called the Halifax Consciousness Scanner. Basically, it’s a brain scanner that measures how well your brain is functioning.

There are many athletes suffering concussions, especially hockey players, but there are none more famous than Sidney Crosby. What happened to Crosby is an example of why there needs to be a profound shift in the way brain injuries are diagnosed in sport.

On Jan. 1, 2011, Crosby collided with David Steckel of the Washington Capitals late in the second period of the Winter Classic. He was woozy as he skated to bench and missed the rest of the second period. Presumably, he was examined during the second intermission and reported that he “toughed it out” and returned to play in the third period.

On Jan. 5, in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, opposing defenceman Victor Hedman hit Crosby from behind and Crosby’s head struck the plexiglass. Hedman was penalized and — astoundingly — Crosby was out on the ensuing power play and did not miss a shift in the third period.

As Dr. Ryan D’Arcy suggests in the story, a player’s brain function is altered after a blow to the head. Although they might not have a concussion, they have an injury that requires healing. A second hit, compounded with the first, can cause a more serious injury than either would have on its own.

Many believe this is what happened to Crosby. In two consecutive games — five days apart — Crosby suffered two blows to the head and was not taken off the ice because trainers had to rely on a crude behavioural test known as the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). Studies have shown that the GCS can fail to detect a concussion 43 per cent of the time. Considering such a high failure rate for a major brain injury, one can’t help but wonder how poorly it detects more subtle brain injuries.

After the second hit, the all-star centre missed a combined 101 games and some wondered if his career was over. Players, teams, and the league need to take a close look at the potential of the Halifax Consciousness Scanner as it goes through clinical trials.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing this piece. I learned a great deal researching it and I loved the challenge of having to write a complex story in just 450 words.

Click here to read the story.

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